As we left, a beautiful Hunters' Moon was shining. I think we'll do it again next year. For those interested, here is my sermon for the service.
Sermon for Blessing of the Hunt.
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:20-28
Increasingly, in our society there are people who hunt and people who do not hunt – or, rather, there are people who understand hunting (whether they in fact go hunting themselves or not) and people who do not understand hunting. The two groups of people don’t have a lot to say to each other on the subject. And the Church doesn’t have much to say on the subject, either, whatever the opinions or activities of its members.
That bugs me. I think we’ve been missing the chance to say something important. We have failed to communicate to both groups what God has to do with the hunting life. The result has been to leave a monopoly on the subject to those most vocal about it – usually those who object to hunting - and to miss the opportunity to say something important about God to those who hunt, who often feel disconnected from the church and what the church teaches.
So allow me to lay a little theology on you this evening, and to start with this idea. We read in the opening chapters of Genesis that God placed humankind in charge of his world, as his steward, his manager. The Man and the Woman were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over the other living things.
That doesn't mean that they were given the earth to use once and throw away, or to make a trash heap out of, and those who assume that Christians of a particular stripe think we are entitled to do that are wrong. Rather, we emphasize that God gave his world into our keeping, to manage it on his behalf – and that he will demand an account from us at the end of all things of what we did with his world.
That means that we are not at liberty to use up the world’s resources, including the wild game. Habitat loss and extinction of species are not merely theoretical concerns to those who hunt, they are practical problems to be solved. And the reason there are still so many game animals to hunt is because hunters willingly pay license fees and observe practices that preserve habitat and keep the flocks and herds healthy. In doing these things, hunters participate in a proper stewardship of creation, so that they will have no fear of rendering their account before God.
But why hunt at all? ask some. Can’t you leave the critters alone and let them flourish as they are, where they are? To which those who “get” hunting reply, that if you allow a population to grow too large for its habitat, it will increase the suffering of the animals through starvation and disease, and bring them into conflict with human activities like traffic and garbage collection, which is bad for both humans and wild animals. Hunting keeps populations under control so that the animals – whether individually or as part of the flock or herd – are healthier.
What right do we have to do this? ask those who have tender consciences about animals. The right – nay, the responsibility – given us by God, to care for his world and see that we leave it better than before. A proper understanding of hunting begins with a proper understanding of God as the Lord of Creation, and Humanity as his deputy in caring for God’s world.
But what do you get out of it? ask those who are squeamish about hunting. And here again, we are forced to answer in spiritual terms. To hunt means to take animals for food, and feeding your family is a right and good thing. Some hunters, of course, take more than they can eat, but then, many of them are generous in sharing the meat with their friends and neighbors – and caring for friends and neighbors is also a right and good thing. I’ve also known hunters who had their game processed at their expense, and then donated the meat to the poor – and caring for the poor is a right and good thing, if ever there was such a thing. All these things, caring for family, for neighbor, and for the poor are commended and commanded by God, and he is pleased to see them properly done.
But do you have to hunt to do that? No, but there’s something more to hunting that those who “get” hunting would like those who don’t to understand. For I think I speak for even the unsuccessful hunter when I say that a day spent in the woods is better than a day spent almost anywhere else.
You see, there’s something out there that draws us. There’s a beauty there, and a peace, and a glory, that we don’t find elsewhere. God is out there. We hear him in the wind, and feel him in the sun and the frost, and when we see a magnificent stag lift up his head – even one too far away to take a shot at – we find our hearts uplifted.
Even guys who don’t know whom to thank for such an experience find themselves feeling thankful out in the woods sometimes. Even guys who don’t pray much find themselves praying, in words that only they and God understand. And they come back better persons, more at peace with themselves, better disposed toward the world, for having spent that time in God’s creation.
Is that Biblical? Is that theological? Oh, yes.
“Flesh knows what spirit knows,
but spirit knows it knows.
Flesh tells what spirit tells,
but spirit knows it tells.”
If I could, I would like to make every hunter understand that what he feels stirring in himself when he’s out in the woods comes from God – and should lead him back to God. It is God who tells us to take care of his world. It is God who tells us to take care of each other. It is God who tells us to seek him – and if we seek him, to be sure that we will find him. And may it be so, for each of us. Amen.